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Analysis: Make No Mistake, Kazakhstan's Elections Still Meaningless 

  • Bruce Pannier

A Kazakh policeman votes during parliamentary elections in Baikonur on March 20.

A Kazakh policeman votes during parliamentary elections in Baikonur on March 20.

The results of Kazakhstan's lackluster parliamentary elections are in and they show that three parties will have seats in the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament. The ruling Nur-Otan party took nearly 81 percent of the vote; Ak Zhol, 7.47 percent; and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, 7.19 percent.

Wait a minute. My mistake. I am so sorry. Those are the results from the 2012 parliamentary elections.

The results of the March 20, 2016, parliamentary elections show, too, that three parties will have seats in the Mazhilis. Nur-Otan got 82.15 percent of the vote; Ak Zhol, 7.18 percent; and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan took 7.14 percent.

Not sure how I could have confused the two polls.

But no biggie -- after spending the equivalent of some $10.7 million preparing for these latest elections, which authorities said were critical for Kazakhstan to combat the effects of the country's worst economic downturn in some 20 years, the composition of parliament is essentially the same as that of the previous Mazhilis.

Officially, 77.1 percent of voters cast ballots in the March 20 poll, though reports and photographs from polling stations around Kazakhstan seemed to indicate little interest on the part of the electorate.

The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) provided its preliminary assessment on March 21, which cited an absence of real political choice for voters and an absence of diversity. While ODIHR monitors did notice some progress, the preliminary assessment said: "It is clear that Kazakhstan still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its election commitments…."

And remember, Kazakhstan held the OSCE rotating chairmanship in 2010.

'Friendly' Observers

Six parties competed in the Mazhilis elections, of which only the the Nationwide Social Democratic Party (OSDP) could be said to be a genuine opposition party. The OSDP received 1.18 percent of the vote.

The usual group of monitors from "friendly" countries and organizations were present also and they turned in their typical glowing assessments on March 21.

Yevgeny Serebrennikov was a member of the election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States. Serebrennikov, who is also the first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee of Russia's Federation Council, said: "The preparations and the organization of these elections can be practically called a model for the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States."

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which groups Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, also sent election monitors. The head of the SCO monitoring mission, Aziz Nasirov, said: "The elections were open, free and democratic," adding that "no violations of the electoral legislation were registered."

The justification for conducting early parliamentary elections was the need for parliamentarians with a fresh five-year mandate to confront the challenges the country faces. Kazakhstan is dependent on oil exports for the bulk of the state's revenue and, as the price of oil has dropped on world markets, Kazakhstan's once bright future has clouded as well.

The country's currency -- the tenge -- has dropped in value from 182 tenge to $1 in July 2015, to about 345 tenge to $1 just ahead of Mazhilis elections. Kazakhstan's government spent nearly a half billion dollars in February to keep the rate up amidst rising discontent from a population that had grown accustomed to improving standards of living over the previous decade. The Economist Intelligence Unit is forecasting that Kazakhstan will enter recession this year for the first time since 1998.

And the result of the early Mazhilis elections served merely to preserve the composition of the previous parliament that was deemed ill-suited to bring the country out of crisis.

With contributions from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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